Abby Wambach claims her first FIFA Women’s Player of the Year

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Abby Wambach has won U.S. Soccer’s Athlete of the Year five times, but only once had she been a finalist for FIFA World Player of the Year. Last year she finished third in voting for an award destined to go to Japan’s Homare Sawa. Today, however, the focal point of the U.S.’s attack was recognized by the international community as the world’s best player, claiming her first Player of the Year honor.

“I’m very, very surprised,” Wambach said of the award. “Individual honors only happen if you have great teams and great people who have given you the chance to be here.”

It was the right choice, though many might consider it an upset. After Marta won this award from 2006-2010, the Brazilian has become the default choice. That she finished second in the balloting despite doing little to recommend herself over players like Canada’s Christine Sinclair speaks to the stubborn focus of the voting pool. Brand still matters to this electorate, and despite a lack of elite success on a personal or team level in 2012, Marta is still one of the most recognizable names in the sport.

That Wambach beat out Alex Morgan, the third-place finisher, is more noteworthy since the U.S.’s biggest star had a truly award-worthy year. Morgan’s superior numbers were coupled with a popularity rising to rival Marta’s more buzz-worthy days. It looked like Morgan would snare the award, whether she was most deserving or not.

“Not only do I think Marta and Alex could have won, but many other players could have been here as well,” Wambach conceded, graciously, after winning the award.

Wambach’s teammate, in particular, had a strong claim to this honor, but it’s difficult to watch the United States game after game and feel Morgan, for all her talents and production, deserves this honor over Wambach. Thanks to 28 goals and 21 assists, Morgan won U.S. Soccer’s Athlete of the Year honor, but her numbers are the product of a system reliant on Wambach’s playmaking an imposing penalty are presence. Defenses have to set up to account for Wambach, strategies that leave them exposed to Morgan’s speed and clinical finishing.

All of which would be mute if Wambach wasn’t putting up numbers of her own. With 27 goals in 32 games, Wambach’s goal rate was higher than her career average (152 goals in 198 appearances). Despite playing against defenses set up to contain her, Wambach posted her highest goal total in eight years.

Now, Wambach is a much different player than she was while scoring 31 times in 2004. Then, her pure physicality made her a near-unstoppable during the U.S.’s gold medal run. Today Wambach is more likely to play with her back to goal, dropping away from defense before moving the ball wide and ghosting into the box. The approach hasn’t padded her assist total (Wambach with only eight on the year, fifth on the team), but the decision-making makes her the key component of the U.S.’s attack.

“She’s so completely deserving of this award and I’m truly happy for her,” Morgan said. “She’s made such a huge mark on women’s soccer over the past decade. She’s an inspirational to not only the thousands of young girls around the country and world, but also to me.”

Wambach does benefit from Morgan’s presence, with Wambach enjoying more space than she did while Amy Rodríguez played Pia Sundhage’s lead attacker. Morgan’s the main reason why Wambach’s been able to be as productive while switching to a role that will likely prolong her career. Had the 23-year-old claimed her first Player of the Year on Monday, it would have been a entirely justifiable decision.

But surprisingly, FIFA got it right. After years of defaulting this award to Marta, FIFA’s voters were able to look beyond Marta’s brand and Morgan’s flash and make the correct choice. Morgan will undoubtedly claim this award in the future, but giving her this award wouldn’t reflect the realities of today’s U.S. Women’s National Team.

Even at 32 with stars emerging around her, Wambach is still the focal point of her team. She’s their most indispensable player, and given her goal output, you can also argue she is their best.

FIFA made that argument today, a shockingly cogent stance for an award that was once the assumed to be Marta’s to lose. But playing on a goal medal winner that lost only once in 32 games, Wambach may have forced their hand – forced them to make the right call.

Klopp, Henderson: Coutinho shows he’s “highest quality player”

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As it turns out, it was with good reason that Liverpool refused to lose superstar midfielder Philippe Coutinho this summer, despite big-money advances from Barcelona, and the player’s admission that he himself wanted to make the move.

[ PL roundup: Goals galore on a wild Saturday ]

On Saturday, the 25-year-old Brazilian made his second straight in Premier League play, and reminded everyone just why a club like Barcelona would pursue him with unrelenting vigor. He started with an assist to Mohamed Salah for the game’s opening goal, and chipped in a score of his own, a stunning free kick (WATCH HERE), to double the lead a few minutes later. The Reds would hang (just barely) for a 3-2 win away to Leicester City.

Following the game, Liverpool manager was full of praise for Coutinho, calling him “the highest quality player,” which is something he believes was never in doubt — quotes from the BBC:

“Nobody was in doubt about this. It is clear he is the highest quality player. We are happy to have him around.”

As for the performance overall, Klopp was largely pleased, even if being so required him to completely ignore the (continued) defensive frailties of his side:

“It is not a time to be completely cool but overall I was happy with our performance. The boys deserved the three points. The free kick for the first goal was not a free-kick and it was a foul on Simon [for the second goal].

“At the start of the second half we played the same football like Leicester — kind of hectic. Simon saved the penalty and then I think we really deserved the win.

“I really thought in a moment like this so many things are positive. The three points are the proof for the public that we are still here, everything is good. Let’s make the next step together.”

Captain Jordan Henderson joined Klopp in his praise for Coutinho, echoing similar sentiments about the best player employed at Anfield since the departure of Luis Suarez:

“Coutinho is a fantastic player. He produces magical things at crucial times of the game. This will give us good confidence going forward.”

Bundesliga wrap: BVB stays red hot, Hoffenheim goes second (video)

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Borussia Dortmund is alone atop the Bundesliga table with 16 points and a plus-18 goal differential, while Hoffenheim moved ahead of Bayern Munich for second place on Saturday.

[ MORE: Premier League roundup ]


Borussia Dortmund 6-1 Borussia Monchengladbach

It wasn’t the Christian Pulisic show this time, as star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang bagged a hat trick, Maximilian Philipp added two goals, and Julian Weigl’s knuckling shot from distance rounded out the scoring. Lars Stindl scored for the visitors.

Pulisic went 64 minutes for the hosts.

Hoffenheim 2-0 Schalke

A second-straight start for American central midfielder Weston McKennie unfortunately yieled a second-successive loss, as Dennis Geiger scored in the 13th minute and Lukas Rupp salted away the win in the 90th. McKennie went 74 minutes, won seven tackles, and covered 9.47 kilometers in the loss.

RB Leipzig 2-1 Eintracht Frankfurt

Jean-Kevin Augustin and Timo Werner gave last season’s upstarts a 2-0 before Ante Rebic set the stage for a promising final quarter hour with a 77th minute tally.

Elsewhere
Bayern Munich 2-2 Wolfsburg — Friday
Stuttgart 0-0 Augsburg
Mainz 1-0 Hertha Berlin
Werder Bremen 0-0 Freiburg
Hannover vs. Koln — 9:30 a.m. ET Sunday
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Hamburg — Noon ET

Premier League roundup: Goals galore on wild Saturday (video)

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The goals started early and kept on coming as four Premier League title chasers won on the road and a fifth buried a visitor on Saturday.

[ MORE: Celtic continues Old Firm Derby run


West Ham United 2-3 Tottenham Hotspur — RECAP

Harry Kane scored a pair of goals and Christian Eriksen also scored for Spurs, whose 3-0 lead was jeopardized by a red card to Serge Aurier.

Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez made it 3-1 before the sending off, and Cheikhou Kouyate lowered the deficit to one only to see Spurs hold on for the win.

Stoke City 0-4 ChelseaRECAP

Alvaro Morata’s hat trick propelled Chelsea into the Top Three, and the Spaniard was very good in bagging his three goals. Pedro also scored for Chelsea, who moves to 13 points.

Leicester City 2-3 LiverpoolRECAP

With Liverpool this season, it certainly hasn’t been easy but it’s often entertaining. The Reds had 2-0 and 3-1 leads, the first through a fantastic Philippe Coutinho free kick, but needed a Simon Mignolet stop of a Jamie Vardy penalty kick to hold on for all three points.

Everton 2-1 Bournemouth — RECAP

Joshua King‘s opener had the Cherries dreaming of a second victory and Ronald Koeman likely wondering about his job, but Oumar Niasse — yep — scored a pair of second half goals to give Everton a much-needed win.

Burnley 0-0 Huddersfield TownRECAP

The surprising top half teams split the points despite five total shots on target.

Swansea City 1-2 WatfordRECAP

Tammy Abraham‘s equalizer had the Liberty Stadium hopeful of at least a point, but Richarlison joined Andre Gray on the score sheet as Marco Silva‘s men rebounded nicely from their blowout at the hands of Manchester City.

Southampton 0-1 Manchester UnitedRECAP

Don’t give the big Belgian two bites at the apple. Romelu Lukaku scored off his own rebound after Ashley Young sent in an early cross at St. Mary’s, then United held on through Jose Mourinho’s sending off to top Saints.

Manchester City 5-0 Crystal PalaceRECAP

Leroy Sane and Kevin De Bruyne played a game of “Can you top this?” with service to their teammates, and Sane also scored as Man City clobbered struggling Palace to doom the Eagles to a Premier League-worst (ever) six matches without a goal to start the season. Raheem Sterling had two of City’s goals, with Sergio Aguero and Fabian Delph also netting markers.

Leicester City 2-3 Liverpool: Reds hold on to win

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Mohamed Salah, Philippe Coutinho, and Jordan Henderson scored as Liverpool built a pair of two-goal leads before holding on to beat Leicester City 3-2 at King Power Stadium on Saturday.

Shinji Okazaki and Jamie Vardy for Leicester, but Simon Mignolet stopped a Vardy penalty to preserve the three points.

The win moves Liverpool fifth. Leicester sits 16th with four points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Jamie Vardy raced past Liverpool’s backs to trouble Simon Mignolet in the sixth minute, and Riyad Mahrez put the rebound wide of the Reds’ goal.

Liverpool should have gone ahead when Emre Can‘s blast off the post rebound to Mohamed Salah, but the in-form winger missed his point-blank chance in howling fashion.

He turned to the bench and gave a thumbs up, so it’s no surprise that Salah made amends moments later with a back post header of Philippe Coutinho’s cross.

Coutinho scored a beauty of his own in the 23rd minute, as the Brazilian lorded over a free kick before spinning a goal just off the top of the wall and past a flying Kasper Schmeichel.

Okazaki had a goal ruled null when Harry Maguire‘s assist was rightly deemed offside, but made it 2-1 in the third minute of stoppage time. A corner kick bounded off Maguire and a lunging Okazaki beat Mignolet to the loose ball.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Vardy had a shot blocked which turned into a Liverpool counter goal through Henderson, but the English striker restored the deficit to one when he nodded a Demarai Gray rebound past Mignolet in the 69th minute.

And the industrious striker drew a penalty within two minutes when Mignolet missed a clearing attempt and took down Vardy. It wasn’t malicious, but it was a foul in the box.

Mignolet saved it!

Can nearly gave away a second PK with a handball moments later, but the linesman ruled that there was no intent in Can’s arm striking the ball.